Given how far back the retail industry goes in the watch world, and how deeply it is rooted to its core, it makes sense that there are plenty of strong opinions around it. Rob Corder, Co-founder and Editor of WatchPro, has a very positive outlook: “I think retail has never been in better health,” he says. Corder makes the link between the watch market in general being at record highs and then assumes that by extension retail must be doing equally well as “they have to be buying them from somewhere”. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), Swiss watch exports were up in 2021 when compared with 2019, showing that there was a real hunger for watches around the world after the pandemic.
When we pose the same question to Jacopo Corvo, owner of GMT Italia, a multi-brand retailer based in Milan that specialises in independent watchmaking, he has a slightly more conservative view on things. “We are still recovering from Covid,” he admits. As someone who runs a store in a tourist hotspot like Milan, it is understandable that a significant portion of their revenue used to come from travellers. “We are starting to grow in local sales, but having events like Milan Design Week certainly helped.”
The disparity between these two points of view shows that the export figures, which many in the press cling to as the indicator for industry health, don’t paint a complete picture. You only need to look back to 2018 when Richemont bought back hundreds of millions of pounds worth of Cartier watches that had been sitting in retailers, having not sold. It is believed this strategy helps stop pieces ending up on the grey market, where they would be sold at a discount, devaluing the brand’s image. However, all of the watches they bought back would have been listed in that year’s export figures and none of them would have reached the final consumer.
While there are positive signs from various corners of the industry, it is always worth exercising a modest amount of caution as global economics seem uncertain right now, and it is still unclear what effect this might have on the retail market.